2024 Strategic Trends Glossary

  • Blurring the lines between course delivery formats in higher education

    Hyflex, blended, hybrid, flipped, synchronous online, asynchronous online, and virtual learning are some of the varying terms used to label online learning, resulting in confusion and ineffective communication among leaders, instructors, students, and other stakeholders. A commitment to shared definitions is needed to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations in addition to providing faculty with the foundation to pursue best teaching practices across course modalities.

  • Continued alignment of higher education with workforce needs and skills-based learning

    The student population will include a larger proportion of adults at later life stages, as the need for lifelong learning and retooling grows. Technology can enable higher education institutions to reach and serve more adult learners more flexibly.

  • Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions

    Higher education continues to experience large numbers of employees leaving the sector for a variety of reasons (e.g., remote work opportunities, more work-life balance, increased income). The impacts of these vacancies include worker overload and burnout, and in the future could include a reduction in the number of courses available, fewer enrollment opportunities, and smaller institutional budgets

  • Demand for affordability as public perceptions of higher education’s value are declining

    The return on investment of the traditional college degree is under increased scrutiny, and the perceived value of a degree is declining. There is a growing demand for affordable education and transparency from institutions in informing potential students about the value of degrees up front.

  • Demand for continued hybrid and remote work arrangements

    Higher education institutions experimented with widespread remote working models for health and safety reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic but recently many have gone back to “normal” in person operations–resulting in pushback from the higher ed workforce. Moving forward, some institutions may need to continue to offer hybrid remote work options and expand policies to include a range of scenarios, from flexible weekly schedules to 100% distributed working environments.

  • Growing efforts towards digital transformation and institutional resilience

    The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated digital transformation and tested higher institutions’ ability to respond, adapt, and meet rapidly changing needs. Some institutions are doubling down on these efforts–focusing on building sustainable digital infrastructures, adopting new technology, rebuilding operational strategies, and changing campus culture to ensure that these transformations and adaptability are long-term, comprehensive, and mission-driven.

  • Growing efforts towards environmental issues and sustainable development goals

    As climate issues become increasingly visible, institutions must demonstrate commitment and efforts in sustainability. Institutional policies, operations, and campus development need to align with state and federal mandates for sustainability, higher education leaders need to affirm the environmental values of their institutions, and environmental issues need to be integrated into academic programs.

  • Growth in demand for flexible and nonaccredited training, credentialing, and certification programs

    Student demand for flexible and nontraditional education pathways is growing, companies increasingly value non-accredited forms of training and education, and more organizations and institutions will seek to hire nontraditional candidates for important leadership and staff positions. Microcredentials and stackable credentials may help higher education institutions attract students in an increasingly competitive market.

  • Increased adoption of AI-powered technologies

    Higher education continues to see increased adoption of AI-powered technologies. Although these technologies are meant to improve efficiency and provide predictive capabilities, they have also caused significant disruptions in higher education (e.g., the impact of generative AI on teaching and learning practices). As these tools become more widespread, users need to learn how to minimize disruptions and seek opportunities to harness these tools for efficiency, creative endeavors, and improved institutional processes and teaching and learning experiences.

  • Increased adoption of low- and no-code technologies

    Higher education institutions are increasingly adopting low- and no-code technologies as a means of simplifying tasks and to develop new applications and content. These technologies are attractive because they allow individuals with little or no coding experience to develop content and apps that would otherwise require expertise in programming.

  • Increased efforts towards creating equitable and inclusive environments and experiences

    Higher education institutions will continue to develop and advance their missions and goals for serving and supporting a diverse workforces and student populations. Demands from external governing and funding bodies for improved equity in accessibility and learning outcomes will further reinforce these institutional commitments.

  • Increased focus on improving hybrid and online learning

    Now out of “emergency remote teaching” mode, many higher education institutions are focusing on developing sustainable and evidence-based models of hybrid online teaching and learning to support students’ online preferences.

  • Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy

    Some governments will continue to move in the direction of imposing sweeping privacy regulations (e.g., GDPR), while others will remain fragmented in their approaches to controlling and safeguarding data. The lack of consistent privacy laws and regulations across state and national borders will result in challenges to compliance and threats to privacy.

  • Intensifying debate around the role of higher education in addressing social issues

    Scrutiny towards social issues is intensifying and in the United States, there are heated debates about higher educations’ role in addressing these issues in addition to whether topics such as race, discrimination, gender, and sexual orientation should be incorporated into teaching and learning experiences.

  • More attention to well-being and mental health

    Well-being and mental health initiatives at colleges and universities will need to support the increasing numbers of students and staff who report anxiety, depression, and related conditions. With a growing shortage of mental health professionals, emerging technology and application solutions will be key in providing mental health support.

  • More calls for data-informed decision-making and reporting

    Institutions increasingly rely on data and analytics as one solution for building their resilience against broader social, political, and economic shifts. This reliance on data will require extensive investments in data infrastructures and governance, as well as intentional and coordinated transformation of institutional culture and operations.

  • Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics

    Degree programs and curricula must meet the shifting demands of industries and an evolving workforce (e.g., automation, gig economy). The higher education workforce must expand and reskill to accommodate the data and analytics needs of institutions.

  • Need for Information literacy as misinformation and propaganda remain widespread

    Higher education institutions are increasingly recognizing the need for information literacy. The use of deep-fake videos, believable disinformation, and weaponized social media is becoming more commonplace on the global social and political stages, as well as on the college campus.

  • Rising costs and uncertainty about public funding for higher education

    Changes in current and potential federal government funding are introducing opportunities, challenges, and uncertainties for institutional bottom lines, often complicating financial planning and outlook.

  • Widening and intensifying nationalism and political divides

    A rise in nationalism and tensions between socio-political worldviews have led to increasingly heated debates and conflicts on campuses. In the United States, states are vying for more control and legislation that could benefit higher education will be difficult to pass through a polarized Congress and entrenched political positions.